A new wave of video game makers are trying to influence a generation of gamers be careful all’ambiente. So we ask ourselves: i video games can really change thepublic opinion about the climate crisis?
The climate crisis and video games
“It was scary. He makes you understand that despite the modern society, we still depend on water falling from the sky”. Alfred himselflead designer at Cape Town-based video game studio Free Lives, remembers vividly that his hometown it was almost without water. In 2018, the area surrounding South Africa’s second city saw months without rainfall. Dams were unable to replenish at the speed required by the inhabitants. The water was rationed. The companies they closed. The situation even required its own version of the Doomsday Clock. hour by hour, the city was getting closer and closer to Day Zero, which it marked the end of its fresh water reserves.
Terra Nil, the video game that Alfred has been developing since 2019, is a response to these terrifying events. Called a “city-builder in reverse”, he renounces the consumption and expansion of classics of the genre such as Civilization and SimCity to paint a environmental restoration framework. Starting in a barren desert, it is up to player fto reborn a landscape using various technologies: a toxin cleaner, for example, or a beehive. At the speed of light, and with a series of flashes of emerald green and blue massaging the eyes, the environment is transformed into lush vegetation. The simplicity of Terra Nil is as beautiful as its images. It offers the satisfaction of a coloring book and, at the same time, one lucid critique of extraction that destroys the environment.
With Terra Nil’s “climate-positive” story, Alfred is part of a growing wave of game makers looking to educate players about the dangers of the climate crisis e you broaden perception of what can be done in response to it. Nianticthe producer of Pokémon GO, used the real world setting of its augmented reality game for promote a tree planting initiative. Ubisoftinstead, organized an in-game climate march for players of Riders Republic. The idea of each of these initiatives is to use video games as tools of moral education.
Playing for the Planet
Over the past three years, a United Nations project called Playing for the Planet he catalyzed these efforts with his own Green Game Jam annual. Deborah Mensah-Bonsufounder of partner organization Games for Good and organizer of the jams, believes that video games are perfectly capable of encouraging changes in mindset and behavior.
“The idea of player agency is a really important element,” he says. “In other media, the experience is more passive. With games, on the other hand, you become part of a story and have a say in its outcome”. The author sees two aspects in what the organization calls “green content”. On the one hand, “they try to help players understand these different topics”. On the other hand, they are given “the opportunity to act”.
In hidden object game June’s Journey and in the arcade fighting game Brawlhallathese actions consist when purchasing in-game items the proceeds of which are then donated to environmental associations such as Ecologi. For deeper engagement, look to titles like Snow Sports Utopia Riders Republic or another Ubisoft title, Anno 1800. The ecological touch of Anno 1800 is an environment that it reacts to the player’s expansionary actions. The creation of monocultures reduces soil fertility. The overfishinginstead, destroys marine populations; every request to the environment has a consequence that could decide the fate of a city.
The wonder of David Attenborough for the natural world permeates the series Horizon. Here, every blade of grass or tuft of moss, immaculately rendered, is a small act of reverence. And the dark fear of the weather looms over the primeval landscapes of Death Stranding. However, there is a dark contradiction at the heart of these blockbuster games and that is the realistic graphics. Every state-of-the-art console, graphics card and processor is the product of many carbon-intensive processesincluding mining of rare earth minerals.
An issue in the Green Game Jam 2022 initiative
When Sony commits to plant trees for each “Reached the Daunt” trophy obtained by players of Horizon: Forbidden West, an initiative promoted as part of the Green Game Jam 2022, raises the spectrum of greenwashing.
Sony recently announced of want to accelerate by 10 years own commitments reduction to zero emissions. However, 2020 emissions from the use of its televisions and video game consoles were the highest since 2016. This is what its 2021 Sustainability Report reports. In addition, as many as 17.1 million tons of C02 and others 1.4 million tons were emitted from company sites.
They’re necessary radical ideas if you want the video game industry you decarbonise collectively. Playing for the Planet hopes to advise companies on how to do this in the coming years. Kara Stone, designer and assistant professor at Alberta University of the Arts, is already working on a quietly radical alternative from the balcony of his south-facing Calgary apartment: a solar powered web server from which players will be able to stream his games. The first is called Known Mysteries, a deduction game set in a near-future Canada held hostage by big oil companies. Stone says the game is partly inspired by his hometown, Calgarywhich he describes as the “oil capital of Canada”.
The game will feature “recycled” imagesmostly taken from industrial films e naturalistic of the seventies. Stone is compressing the images so they can be fed into the tiny solar-powered web server she’s building using a panel bought at Craigslistand microcomputer Raspberry Pi it’s a old car battery. Stone’s work delicately challenges the notion that high resolution graphics, whose rendering requires ever increasing amounts of electricity, is the indisputable future of gaming. And because it runs on a solar server in Canada’s often dark and cloudy climate, players might not being able to log into his game all the time.
“Not everything has to be accessible to everyone at every single moment,” says Stone. “I don’t worry too much if the game crashes even for a few hours a day, every day. Full access to every user is a capitalist mentality”.
So can video games really change public opinion about the climate crisis?
According to new data collected by Mensah-Bonsu and Playing for the Planet on a number of mobile titles, the response suggests they can. On 389,594 interviewed78.6% believe that the game can help them learn about the environment and the 35.4% want to see more environmental content in games. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61.1%) stated that they would be motivated to pay for environmentalist content whether these enrich their gaming experience, support a good cause or teach them something new.
Mensah-Bonsu points out that the research is far from “the last word on the subject”. According to Mensah-Bonsu they are necessaryfurther studies with greater academic rigour, but it’s the first step in validating work that hasn’t been tried so far. At the very least, according to Mensah-Bonsu, research shows that commitment to the climate crisis it is not a hindrance for players. Establishing a causal link would be more difficult. Many have tried to find a link between games and player behavior when it comes to video games and violence, at length and at even greater cost, and none have succeeded.
Whether it changes minds or behaviors, game makers and gamers alike want to confront the threat of global warming. Games like ABZU e Alba: A Wildlife Adventure – ecological fairy tales set in the ocean and on land – are among many that show us a way of seeing the world that is not through a crosshair.